Rafat Ali’s Skift aims to be the Politico of travel websites

U.S. travel is a $2 trillion dollar industry, but Rafat Ali believes it doesn’t have a go-to, digital native news site the way the tech, finance and meda sectors do. So he decided to create one. His New York-based startup Skift, a travel intelligence media company, officially launches today.
“There are a lot of existing siloed publications, like Aviation Weekly and cruise industry magazines,” Ali says. “There are frequent-flyer blogs and things like that. But there’s nothing in the travel industry that brings it all together in a cohesive, information-led effort. We are in a good position to build that.” His cofounder is Jason Clampet, formerly the senior online editor at Frommers.
Ali founded paidContent in 2002, sold the company to its pre-GigaOM owner, the Guardian Media Group, in 2008. He left paidContent in 2010.
Ali describes Skift as “a new breed of media company” that appeals both to industry professionals and consumers. ( The closest parallel, he says, is Politico, which targets Washington insiders as well as a large base of consumers interested in politics.
At launch, Skift is focused on news for the travel industry, with revenues coming from advertising. It contains four types of content: Software-aggregated, human-curated, licensed (from sources like the AP and Reuters) and original reporting. “That’s the fastest way to scale,” Ali says. The site includes categories like “Insights,” with news on mergers, acquisitions and travel startups, and “Rooms,” with info on hotels, rentals and shares.
As it expands, Skift will add news content for business travelers and will launch subscription-based data, services and other tools. “We feel the way to build a brand is through the media part, and the way to build a business is through the data,” Ali says. “We hope to scale on revenues with data, not with ads.” SkiftData, for example, will collect publicly available travel data like local tourism statistics and airport departures and arrivals. “All of that data is publicly available, sitting in government depositories and mostly in Excel or Word files,” Ali says. “We’ll be pulling all that data, normalizing, cleaning it and publishing it in a user-friendly fashion.”
Ali funded the site himself until its launch and has now raised a $500,000 angel round from investors like former MySpace president Jason Hirschhorn, former Thomson Reuters president of media Chris Ahearn, former Wall Street Journal (s NWS) publisher Gordon Crovitz and Associated Content founder Luke Beatty.